I’ve been asking that question since Edward Snowden arrived in our lives.
Generally, I’m all for leakers. I mean, I’m a journalist. I like it when people tell me stuff.
When I was living in Kentucky and covering Appalachia back in the early ‘70’s, I was introduced to somebody ensconced in the permanent government in Washington, D.C. the kind of official who often has concerns about whoever is purporting to run the country.
In those simple pre-electronic days, the official would forego the note under the flower pot, the tactic used by Deep Throat. He would ring me on his government phone and fulminate.
“You wouldn’t believe what this gang of thugs is doing,” he would begin. He told me about a couple of Nixonites assigned to dismantle the anti-poverty programs of the Johnson administration. Then I would drive a few hours into the mountains, where school lunches or medical transportation or legal aid were in jeopardy.
One demolisher in the O.E.O. was named Rumsfeld and the other was named Cheney. I often wonder what became of them.
Now we have gone from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate to Julian Assange and on to Edward Snowden. The first time I heard his name, Jeffrey Toobin was calling him a narcissist on television. Interesting choice of words from somebody I respect, I thought.
Now I have come to think Toobin was on to something. From reading about Snowden, he has come to remind me of Maxwell the Pig on the Geico commercials, with his youthful self-involvement (“My name is Maxwell and my life is kind of awesome”) who likes to go fast downhill and scream “Wheeee!!!” at the top of his voice.
At the moment, Snowden appears to be residing in a transit zone of the Moscow airport with government laptops. What was his plan? Why did he run?
Should I be angered at learning the U.S. had access to zillions of telephone records? I always figured they did. These days, we all have chips embedded in us. Look at me, voluntarily spewing off. Every time I go over a bridge around New York, E-Z Pass has a record of which borough I was in, and at what time.
In the days after 9/11, I kept reassuring people (maybe myself) that the Bush administration would know how to go after bad guys. Of course, I over-rated the competence of those people, but eventually another administration tracked down Osama. Did they use electronic surveillance? Do you think?
I tend to trust Barack Obama quite a bit, but I can recall some administrations I trusted not at all. I can understand why people worry about a government that collects phone records. Far from any authority or real information, I think govern-ments and newspapers are discrete about some parts of national security, but I also love learning stuff. On a case-by-case basis I cannot help thinking this leaker has done some damage.